Group demands school calendar cut to ease teacher burdens

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. —

A teachers' organization wants DeKalb County to cut the school year by as many as four days to help ease the burden on teachers already facing larger class sizes, more furlough days and a cut in benefits.

"The employees have pretty much shouldered the burden of the budget problems over the last several years," said David Schutten of the Organization of DeKalb Educators. "What we're advocating is now to shorten the school year from 180 days to 178 or 176 days because the teachers do need that planning time."

Under the latest budget framework hammered out by DeKalb school board members Tuesday night, teachers would receive an additional two furlough days added to the four they already have. According to Schutten, they would also have larger class sizes and would lose $50 a month in health and dental care subsidies.

Still, Schutten said the cuts could have been much worse.

"It's about a 1 percent pay cut for employees," said Schutten. "It's far better than a 6.25 percent pay cut, which is floating out there."

Chris Murphy is a fourth-grade teacher at Montgomery Elementary in Dunwoody. He said the proposed cuts are really hurting teacher morale.

"I just think it's unfair," said Murphy. "If we're going to ask teachers to work harder, it's going to be unfair to them. They're not going to give 100 percent if they're not getting paid for what they do."

Murphy lives in DeKalb County and faces the double-whammy of seeing furlough days coupled with a school board proposed one-mil property tax hike.

"At the end of the day, when I have to go grocery shopping, or I have to do this, I got to cut my budget and do what I have to do to survive," said Murphy. "And then they're going to take money away from me? It just hurts the teachers. I mean, their morale just goes down."

Murphy worries the cuts might motivate some other teachers to give less in the classroom.

"They're not going to work hard," said Murphy. "They're going to give 50 percent, 75 percent, and it's just going to hurt students in the long run."

The DeKalb School Board hopes to vote on a plan to fill a huge $73 million budget gap by June 11. They say the shortfall is the result of collapsing property values coupled with higher health care costs.